Skunk Walkabout and Snow Crust

by Carl Strang

 

The cold front that came through over the weekend left us with some drifted snow and cold temperatures, providing for a few more days’ tracking. Monday night the skunks were on their mating season walkabout, and as best I could tell with the patchy snow cover, 4 individuals were active on Mayslake Forest Preserve.

 

skunk-tracks-24fe-1b

 

One, apparently the skunk whose den was featured earlier in the month, covered nearly all the preserve and overlapped trails with three others in different portions of Mayslake’s periphery.

 

skunk-tracks-24fe-4b

 

Though not yet crusted, the snow was not deep in most places, and was wind-packed, so the skunks did not have too much trouble (though as you can see in the next photo, the skunk had to down-shift to a diagonal walk gait where the snow was a little deeper).

 

skunk-tracks-24fe-2b

 

Tuesday was warm and sunny. As mentioned earlier, such days in February typically are followed by cold nights that freeze the partly melted snow surface to form a crust. The heat rises into the open sky, but where there is insulation above even from leafless branches the crust forms more slowly. The skunks were out again, this time on crust, but though they were supported in the open they were breaking through under the canopy.

 

skunk-tracks-25fe-2b-marked

 

In the above photo the skunk was moving under the edge of a willow’s thin cover, so that some steps (circled) broke through while others were supported. This is how you may find where an animal seemed to be drifting or skipping through the air, touching down only at intervals so as to leave isolated footprints.

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1 Comment

  1. February 27, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    [...] Yesterday  I made several references to how changes in weather conditions were affecting the footprints made by skunks over two successive nights. Awareness of weather is an important aspect of estimating the age of tracks, no matter what surface they are in. I’ll probably expand on this in the future, but for now let’s take a closer look at those skunk tracks. We’ll compare photos of skunk tracks that differed in age by one day. The first is of a footprint made the previous night (and thus a few hours old). [...]


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